Dedicated to preserving the rich industrial heritage of the region, the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat welcomes a multitude of both local and international visitors each year. At this historic attraction, visitors can relax aboard riverboats, ride the rails, and see several significant New England and Connecticut landmarks. As the only steam train and riverboat connection in the country, this attraction offers a unique experience that is bound to inspire and educate.
The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat, or the EST&R for short, has been operated by the Valley Railroad Company since 1971. Though this may seem recent, the company has been active in the region since 1868. The first rail lines built by the company began running in 1871 and ran from Hartford to Saybrook Point. After the company was bought out by the New Haven Railroad, the line was improved due to investments made by its new owners. While WW1 introduced the widespread use of the automobile, the railroad system saw a corresponding decline in ridership. Despite this, however, the Valley Railroad Company was rescued by a dedicated group of volunteers, which ensured its survival through the economic hardships brought on by innovation. Having obtained a formal lease from the State of Connecticut in 1970, the Valley Railroad Company regained its independence and reintroduced trains connecting Essex to Deep River. It is these very lines that visitors can enjoy today.
Train and Boat
Visitors seeking an excursion into the center of the Connecticut River Valley will likely relish a ride in style aboard the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat. Starting at the historic Essex train station, visitors will ride the rails for 2.5 hours while taking in the sights and the accompanying narration provided by the tour guides. Over the course of the 12-mile journey, visitors will see the historic towns of Chester and Deep River. In addition, visitors will also see sites that are only accessible by boat, such as Selden Neck State Park. The excursion is focused on showcasing the ecology of the area by pointing out the coves, preserves, and tidal wetlands of the New England coast. Bird watchers will have ample opportunities to observe many avian species, such as red-winged black birds, Greenland geese, blue herons, and egrets to name a few. Those undertaking this journey in February or March may even see a bald eagle or two as that is when they typically migrate from Canada to the Connecticut River Valley.
Once the journey reaches the Deep River landing, passengers will be escorted onto the Becky Thatcher riverboat, aboard which they will undertake a further 1 hour and 15 minute journey. With multiple decks, visitors have plenty of vantage points to choose from as they settle in to observe the tranquil Connecticut River. Along the way, visitors will see many historic sites such as Gillette Castle, the Haddam Swing Bridge, and the Goodspeed Opera House.
Harkening back to the roaring twenties, the EST&R provides a luxurious dining experience that lets visitors get a taste for decadence. The dinner train ride lasts for 2.5 hours, giving diners ample time to finish their gourmet chef-prepared meals and take in the unforgettable sights of the region.
Those planning a visit between the months of June to October are invited to try the Saybrook Special. This unique journey is offered on the first weekend of every month and provides unparalleled views of historic and natural sights not otherwise covered in the other itineraries on offer at the EST&R. Known for being the largest inland coastal forest located between Boston and New York, The Preserve is easily one of the major highlight of the journey. Visitors will be able to see glacial pathways, unspoiled forests, and the rocky landscapes that characterize the region’s geological character.
Gillette Castle Connection
Visitors who prefer exploration on foot will likely enjoy a hike to Gillette Castle. Once the home of William Gillette, the actor known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes on stage, the castle now offers moderately graded hiking trails along its extensive grounds.
The EST&R offers a variety of special programs that combine niche interests with their special curated journeys. Whether it’s a special holiday-themed ride catered to preserving the magic of the season for their youngest passengers or a sophisticated night of wine and chocolate, the EST&R has something for every type of guest.
1 Railroad Ave, Essex, CT 06426, Phone: 860-767-0103